The stage and the red curtain. The orchestra box is just in front of the stage (Photo: Takako Sakamoto)

Ueno: Tokyo Bunka Kaikan

Japan's oldest "Ballet Palace"

The stage and the red curtain. The orchestra box is just in front of the stage (Photo: Takako Sakamoto)
Takako Sakamoto   - 5 min read

Tokyo Bunka Kaikan is one of the oldest concert halls for classical music in Japan. It opened in April 1961 in response to a desire by the public for a venue to enjoy opera and ballet in Japan. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government constructed it as part of its 500th anniversary celebration. Since then, it's been sometimes dubbed the 'Music Palace'. However, I would like to call it a 'Ballet Palace' as well, for many major ballet concerts have been held for decades here at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan.

Unfortunately, there are no concert halls in Japan as historical and magnificent as theaters like The Palais Garnier, The Teatro alla Scala, The Bolshoi Theatre and The Mariinsky Theatre are. The only ones in which we can see traditional performing arts and be proud of would probably be the Kabuki-za in Ginza or Minami-za in Kyoto. Yet considering the fact that 'Western' culture such as classical music and ballet have been imported to Japan without restrictions only after the Second World War, you can understand why we don't have many 'historical' concert halls in Japan.

Now that we have new and modern concert halls like the New National Theater, Tokyo, this concert hall looks a little bit outdated and old. But somehow I like it very much. When you watch or listen to something 'classic', state-of-the-art, flashy concert halls don't really match the art form that well. I've watched ballet and plays at the New National Theatre, Tokyo, of course (how could I resist!) and although I liked the comfortable seats or the angled, tiered hall, I still prefer Tokyo Bunka Kaikan to watch ballet. Probably because I have fond memories here that I've kept for decades. When you visit one place periodically for many years you get a 'welcome home' feeling when you revisit the place after sometime.

The other day I visited Tokyo Bunka Kaikan. It had been 7 or 8 years since I last visited there, probably to see one of The World Ballet Festivals which have been held every 4 years for a long time in Japan. The day I went, the Paris Opera Ballet performed 'Don Quixote'. As I've been a big fan of ballet for 30 plus years, the current dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet belong to the generation of my once-favorite dancers' children. Once there was a very beautiful, sensual but noble dancer called Dominique Khalfouni in the Ballet National de Marseille and I was a fan of her. Now her son, Mathieu Ganio is one of the étoiles (principal dancers) at the Paris Opera Ballet. Time flies.

As you can see, Tokyo Bunka Kaikan is not one of the newest, state of the art concert halls. But it has its own benefits. It's comfortably old and spacious, and most of all it's located in one of the best locations in Tokyo; inside Ueno Park. In the lobby, there are tables set up to accommodate customers who would like to eat and drink during intermission. I must say drinking wine while standing around a tall table seems to me to be VERY western, such a good way to enjoy ballet, one of the western cultures imported to Japan! There is also a restaurant and a cafe which open from 11 AM to 7 PM. But they can be quite crowded, so it might be best to make a reservation in advance. There are people who dress up to see classical concerts, or in winter everyone wears bulky coats. Don't worry, this hall includes a 'cloak' where they can keep your coat or belongings during the concert for free.

Lastly, this hall is located just across the street from Jr Ueno Station. You can stroll inside Ueno Park before the concert. As you may know, there are a lot of cultural facilities such as the National Museum of Western Art, the Ueno Royal Museum, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, other museums and even a zoo. There's no chance to get bored inside Ueno Park.

The information of evens at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan can be found here, and you can also see more photos of the place here in my photo story at Japan Travel.

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Takako Sakamoto

Takako Sakamoto @takako.sakamoto

I was born in and grew up in Tokushima prefecture, and have lived in many places since then: Nishinomiya, Kyoto, Nara, Mie, Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Chiba, Fukuoka and Fukui. I am currently living in Yokohama City. All the places I lived, all the places I visited, I have loved dearly. The histor...